Life & Culture

Charm Circle film review: Insight into a chaotic upbringing

Touching and funny tale of child growing up with two warring parents


Charm Circle
Cert 15| ★★★★✩

New York-born Jewish filmmaker Nira Burstein presents an insight into her chaotic upbringing as she sheds the light on her fractured relationship with her parents in this documentary feature that won the audience award at Sheffield DocFest where it premiered in 2021.

Struggling to cope with the rising cost of looking after their crumbling New York home, Nira’s parents Uri and Raya Burstein are two gifted, classically trained musicians whose co-dependent relationship has seen better days.

Surrounded by clutter, the two spend their days bickering and berating one another over the silliest of things.

While Raya who suffers from a number of mental health issues, complains about Uri’s lack of interest in sex and in her — going as far as to provide Viagra tablets for him — Uri is constantly exasperated by his wife’s every movement or utterance.

Unable to live together or apart, the two have spent the last four decades making each other and their daughters miserable, but still refuse to separate.

As Nira follows the day-to-day occurrences in her childhood home, we soon get the sense that dysfunction might be the only thing keeping her parents alive and thriving. While Uri regularly wears a yarmulke, there is very little in his daily behaviour that hints at any kind of religious devotion.

This doesn’t stop him from invoking his faith when he refuses an invitation to his daughter Adina’s wedding. Naturally in this complicated family Adina is polyamourous and marrying two non-binary lovers.

With more than a hint of Grey Gardens — the cult 1975 documentary about two high-society women living amid the decay and disorder of their East Hampton mansion — Bernstein’s film is both touching and funny.

As Uri and Raya bicker and blame each other for their collective failure to amount to anything, there is a strong sense that in the end, the two were made for each other and that despite the constant chaos, there is still a lot of love left between them.

The film is screening this Saturday at Bertha DocHouse in Bloomsbury

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